Making Communications Buzz

Monday, April 24, 2006

E-mail: how many lines is too many?

Here's an idea for a new electronic communications product: E-mail software that remembers the reading habits of the people in your address book. What for? Have you noticed that some (all?) of the people you send e-mail to never seem to get to the end of your messages?

The e-mail software idea is meant to be humorous and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but my point is not humorous at all. In general, people really don't read e-mail very carefully, and it is a mistake (sometimes a serious mistake) to assume that they do.

Knowing this, we can save ourselves some grief by using a few simple techniques of business e-mail style:

1. Put anything important at the very beginning of an e-mail message.

2. Never make "paragraphs" more than 2-4 lines long. Usually this means keeping them to about two sentences in length.

3. Separate paragraphs with two returns (two blank lines) instead of just one. This helps the reader to stay focused.

For more about effective e-mail communication, see "Increasing the success of your business communication," by PR consultant Elizabeth Robinson.

Some of us are "old school" when it comes to e-mail (if there can be such a thing), writing paragraphs, complete sentences, lines and lines of text.

This is also known as setting yourself up for a rude awakening, because (am I wrong about this?) very few people read more than the first paragraph of an e-mail.

There are exceptions. You know, it's the folks who reply to an e-mail by including the original message and then addressing each point, one by one, underneath a snippet of the original.

In the e-mail software I'm envisioning, these conscientious souls will earn the label (R) for "Reader" in your address book, and the software will allow you to send them messages that are as long as you like.

E-mail "skimmers", on the other hand will earn the label (DE) for "Don't even think of writing a message to this person that is longer than three lines."

When a message to a person with label (DE) goes beyond three lines, the messaging software will beep and the text you are typing will become red.

Go ahead, keep on typing. Just remember that you will be repeating everything in red over the phone to the recipient as soon as you realize that you forgot who you were writing to. Usually, a missed deadline or money -- or both -- will be at issue at that point.

How will the software know? Well, I plan to leave that up to the Google, Yahoo! and MSN folks mostly. Aren't they linking all this stuff up together in one humongous interconnected database?

How about this for the time being: Whenever you have to get on the phone to resolve something that results from a too-long e-mail, open your address book and select the name of the person involved. Now click the red sent too-long e-mail icon as many times as you think the situation/misunderstanding/crisis warrants. This incrementally reduces the number of lines you will be allowed to send them in your next e-mail.

Is this post too cynical? Misguided? Let me know what you think, and please tell me if you know of any other effective e-mail communication resources like Elizabeth Robinson (see above).


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

< Back to McBuzzBlog Home